Long before there were homeroom teachers to make us spit it out, humans have been chewing barks, grasses and resins to remove plaque and freshen breath. But that icy burst of bubbly flavor and extra whitening power marketed at us today by the $30 billion chewing gum industry is not even close to the natural plants our ancestors used. In fact, the overwhelming majority of gums are filled with toxic chemicals, artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors. Despite dentists' claims that chewing sugar-free gum can reduce cavities and plaque, there are plenty more reasons to avoid this bad habit altogether. Here are nine:
1. Chewing gum puts stress on the shock-absorbing cartilage in your jaw joints and can lead to a lifetime of pain and discomfort. The jaw muscles can also tighten and even lead to chronic headaches.
2. Contrary to the myth, gum is not really a solution for bad breath. Sure, if you were just gnawing on an onion it might temporarily mask the odor (but not your insanity), but the root cause of bad breath is often deep in your digestive system or the result of gum or tooth decay and gum will only make it minty-bad instead of just plain ol' bad.
3. Gum chewing stimulates saliva production. It is not natural for these glands to produce a steady stream of saliva for hours and it takes away from other important metabolic functions.
4. Sufferers of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can have flare-ups after chewing gum because of the excess air swallowed while chewing. This can put pressure on the intestine and cause cramping and bloating.
5. Sheep secretions in gum? Yep. Oils from sheep’s wool produce a substance called lanolin common in chewing gum base. Because "gum bases" are considered standardized, manufacturers do not have to expand on the ingredient list beyond that.
6. Gums are also made from synthetic polymers and latex, which can be hard on the digestive system if you accidentally swallow your chew.
7. Most of the sugar-free chewing gum on the market is sweetened with aspartame, which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders, tinnitus and birth defects.
8. The rest of the gum out there is typically sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which in addition to a number of health issues (obesity, diabetes, cancer), is also one of the main causes of tooth decay.
9. People that chew gum regularly may be using it as a stress displacer or a way to work off nervous energy (especially you former smokers), which means that the root cause of the anxiety is not being addressed and will persist. Try yoga, meditation or other holistic de-stress techniques and see if the craving for gum dissipates.
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Image: Pink Sherbet Photography